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Obituaries

Anita Hoffman; Activist, Ex-Wife of Yippie

January 01, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anita Kushner Hoffman, social activist and former wife of the late anti-Vietnam War protester and Chicago Eight defendant Abbie Hoffman, has died. She was 56.

Hoffman died Sunday in San Francisco of breast cancer, said her sister, Truusje Kushner, of Los Angeles.

Herself a political liberal and civil rights activist, Hoffman was supportive of the Youth International Party (Yippies) Abbie co-founded.

She helped her husband, often dubbed the "clown prince" of radicals, disrupt the New York Stock Exchange by throwing money on the trading floor, encircle the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War and stage demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

She also went to Algeria to meet with Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver to discuss combining the Panthers and Yippies.

Anita and Abbie Hoffman were married in New York's Central Park in 1967, a wedding pictured in Time magazine. They had a son, america.

The first letter of his name was lower-case, she later explained, "because we didn't want to be pretentious. We chose that name because he was our vision of what the country could be."

She was the second of Abbie Hoffman's three wives, after his early marriage to Sheila Hoffman, with whom he had two children, and before his partner of 14 years, Johanna Lawrenson.

"I spent my time bailing him out of jail," Anita Hoffman said years later. "I'm not saying that was the greatest thrill. But I saw my role as a real helpmate, so he was free to act out his own thing."

Although Anita Hoffman did not go underground with her husband in the early 1970s, and divorced him when he emerged seven years later, she remained his staunch defender. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide on April 12, 1989, at 52.

She stood solidly behind him when he was arrested and tried with his friends, including Tom Hayden, who is now a member of the state Senate, for conspiracy to incite riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The 1969 trial was tagged the case of the Chicago Eight and then the Chicago Seven after Bobby Seale's charges were severed from the others. All but two of the young men were convicted, but all were absolved on appeal.

Charged later with drug dealing, Abbie Hoffman disappeared, roaming the U.S. and Canada for years, hiding from authorities. Nevertheless, he maintained contact with his wife, who hid his whereabouts from the FBI, and he saw their son each summer on an island in the St. Lawrence River in New York.

"Of course I support him and his politics," she said in 1980. "And he has been more than generous to us. He has given us money whenever he can, but of course that's been difficult for him."

Her experience without her husband's financial support during the 1970s led Anita Hoffman to help found the Downtown Welfare Advocate Center in New York to assist others in similar situations. She worked to support the family as a waitress, word processor, social worker, story editor, novelist and free-lance writer.

But she continually devoted time and energy to defending and preserving Abbie Hoffman's memory. She wrote a novel about him, titled "Trashing," and a memoir, "To America with Love: Letters from the Underground." She also wrote sharp letters to news media when she felt his behavior or beliefs were incorrectly described.

Recently, she served as a consultant and had a cameo role in a courtroom scene of a feature film about Abbie Hoffman titled "Steal This Movie," a take-off on his popular tome "Steal This Book."

Robert Greenwald, producer and director of the film, which was shot in Toronto and is planned for fall release, said Anita Hoffman was not only a consultant but "the godmother and spiritual force behind this movie." He said she visited the set, helped revise 21 versions of the script and inspired everyone. She is played by the actress Janeane Garofalo in the film.

The New York-born Hoffman, who had lived in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, had recently lived in Petaluma, Calif., selling rare books and writing.

Survivors include her son; her mother, Leah Kushner, and her sister. A memorial service will be planned later this month.

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